Jim Boeheim raised his arms and ran down the sideline with a grin on his face. C.J. Fair leapt in the air and pumped his fist. The Syracuse bench poured onto the court in search of a teammate to hug.Tyler Ennis' game-winning shot except for the guy who hit it.
Ennis added to his reputation as one of the nation's best players with the game on the line, burying a running 35-footer as time expired to give top-ranked Syracuse a 58-56 victory at Pittsburgh that kept the Orange's undefeated record intact. Then Ennis took his knack for being cool under pressure one step further, barely cracking a smile as he jogged toward the Syracuse bench while the rest of his teammates were going nuts around him.
Syracuse had reason to celebrate wildly because this was the night many believed the Orange would suffer their first loss.
Not only was Pittsburgh 9-0 against top-five opponents at the Petersen Events Center, coach Jamie Dixon was 10-5 against Syracuse in his career and 6-1 against the Orange at home. Furthermore, the Panthers (20-5, 8-4) were absolutely desperate for a credibility-boosting win against a marquee opponent since they had previously lost to the only four RPI top 40 opponents they have faced this season.
It looked as though Pittsburgh would get its wish when it opened up a nine-point lead midway through the second half and again when it extended its advantage to six with two minutes to play on a Talib Zanna put-back of Lamar Patterson's errant 3-pointer. Syracuse refused to go away, however, cutting the lead to one on a pair of jumpers from Fair and then taking a one-point lead when Ennis zoomed down floor in transition, drew a foul and coolly hit both free throws with 10 seconds to play.
Pittsburgh answered on its final possession as Lamar Patterson drove into the teeth of the Syracuse zone, drew the defense and dished to Zanna, who sank both foul shots to put his team back up one. That's when Jamie Dixon curiously called timeout when Syracuse had none left, enabling the Orange to at least set up a play to go the length of the court.
Boeheim said after the game that Ennis was supposed to pass to Fair on the final play, but nobody in Orange will complain about the freshman freelancing when he couldn't find his teammate. Ennis' clutch shot will only add to his legend in Syracuse and strengthen his case for freshman of the year honors.
Ennis finished with 13 points and five assists, decent numbers but he, like the rest of the Orange, was limited by Pitt's stifling man-to-man defense. The Panthers also took advantage of the absence of Baye Moussa Keita and punished Syracuse on the glass, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds to help make up for 36 percent shooting.
That Syracuse won anyway is a testament to its resilience and heart.
The Orange may not complete an unbeaten regular season with road games at Duke, Virginia, Maryland and Florida State still left on the schedule, but if they can win at Pittsburgh in front of a deafening crowd, don't count them out.
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- Tyler Ennis